|By Arnold M. Knightly, Las Vegas
Review-JournalMcClatchy-Tribune Regional News
Nov. 16, 2007 --Maintenance workers were busy putting the last touches on the Planet Hollywood Resort on Thursday afternoon ahead of this weekend's star-driven grand opening.
For Robert Earl, co-owner and restaurateur behind Planet Hollywood, the weekend marks the beginning of the second phase of a business plan to make the property a top draw on the Strip.
"We realize that there were a lot of hurdles to get this far," he said. "But we are smart enough to know that it is only part of the deal."
Earl has pulled in a lot of his Hollywood friends for the two-day event: actors Sylvester Stallone and Bruce Willis, actress and singer Barbra Streisand and comedian Jon Stewart top the list of stars expected to attend or perform over the weekend.
The public relations department was busy coordinating the pending arrivals and last-minute requests of the high-powered stars and lesser wannabes while juggling continuous media requests.
Planet Hollywood Resort is owned by OpBiz, which bought the property in 2004 for $496 million.
OpBiz is a partnership between Earl and investment firm Bay Harbour Management, which owns 85 percent. Starwood Hotels and Resorts Worldwide owns the remaining 15 percent.
The property was rebranded Planet Hollywood Resort on April 16, removing the name and, the owners hope, the stigma of the Aladdin. No trace of the Moroccan-themed resort remains inside the casino or on the Strip frontage, although traces can still be found in the separately owned Miracle Mile Shops at Planet Hollywood Resort.
"They've taken this thing from probably being a lower tier of casinos to some place that's going to compete with Mandalay Bay, TI, Mirage and MGM," said David Edelstein, president of the shopping center's co-owner, Tristar Capital.
But for Earl and his partners, this weekend is more than just having a splashy red-carpet event on the Strip.
"This starts the new brand build," he said. "Our position is to come and see us. Once they come we hope they find the environment sufficiently interesting that their next stay in town they might sleep with us."
The weekend also marks the introduction of approximately 100 new suites, raising the total to 260 new suites featuring millions of dollars worth of movie memorabilia. The 40-story hotel tower has 2,600 rooms.
Now that Planet Hollywood has the suites, the casino marketing department can compete with other Strip casinos in pursuing high-rollers and regular gamblers.
"We can now focus on bringing gamers for a first-time experience of our lodging," Earl said. "Right up until this week we didn't have room for that."
Bringing in more big-money players would help the casino continue its recent upward trend.
Casino revenues increased 5.1 percent to $26.4 million for the quarter ended Set. 30, compared to $25.1 million last year, according to recent filings.
However, casino revenue was down 5.2 percent to $76.6 million for the first nine months of the year compared to $80.6 million in 2006.
"The casino is as nice a casino as you're going to find in Las Vegas," Edelstein said. "It was horribly dark and depressing in all fashion (before the remodel)."
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